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Proposition 36 on the Three Strikes Law: a poverty skolar’s report

November 5, 2012

by Leo Stegman

Leo Stegman
I will support any proposal that will alleviate the suffering of low-income individuals and people of color. As an African-American living in a low-income community, the police are not friends of my community. We are disproportionately affected by the disease of police brutality. My mother was one of the most law-abiding and generous people I know, and like many people in our community she had issues with calling the police.

I have seen many friends, family and neighbors whose lives were ruined by what the great intellectual, professor, activist and civil rights attorney Michelle Alexander calls “the New Jim Crow.” In his work, “Lockdown 2000,” activist and author Christian Parenti also explains that one of the primary purposes of the prison industrial complex, which includes the police force, is to create a separate and unequal caste system in Amerikkka.

Proposition 36 will abolish the most insidious portions of the Three Strikes Law that is so hurtful to my community and so central to the way the police impact our lives. Under the Three Strikes Law, if an individual with two felony convictions is convicted of a third felony, district attorneys and judges are authorized to sentence them to 25 years to life regardless of whether the third felony is violent or serious. For example, a petty thief with a prior petty conviction is vulnerable to the Three Strikes Law.

The enactment of the Three Strikes Law was an emotional and irrational response to the murder of Polly Klass by ex-felon Richard Allen Davis, who had a history of three decades of violent felonies. The conservatives used this murder as an opportunity to fuel fear and pass the Three Strikes Law. The emotional and irrational response to a death led to wild and irrational prison sentences.

In his work, “Lockdown 2000,” activist and author Christian Parenti explains that one of the primary purposes of the prison industrial complex, which includes the police force, is to create a separate and unequal caste system in Amerikkka.

People have been severely and harshly sentenced by the Three Strikes Law. Over 3,000 inmates have received sentences of 25 to life for non-violent and non-serious felonies. Make no mistake: Not everyone in the belly of the beast and behind the wall is guilty. Many individuals are represented by overworked, underpaid and sometimes incompetent public defenders that fail to explain defendants’ rights or might simply escort them to their slaughter.

The rich and the well off have the resources to hire a private attorney to represent them most effectively. The rich never spend time in jail awaiting trial because they have the resources to bail out of jail.

On many occasions, young and less sophisticated innocent defendants plead guilty even when they are not guilty because the DA offers to let them go or get them a short prison sentence. These young people only realize after they’re arrested again that they just sold their souls with the previous guilty conviction.

People have been severely and harshly sentenced by the Three Strikes Law. Over 3,000 inmates have received sentences of 25 to life for non-violent and non-serious felonies. Make no mistake: Not everyone in the belly of the beast and behind the wall is guilty.

Many brothers and sisters have changed, with the story of Malcolm X an example of such a transformation. Many of my friends are now responsible fathers, grandfathers, brothas, sistas, uncles and relatives who have committed crimes in the past that are classified as serious and/or violent and face the possibility of serving 25 to life for non-violent and petty offenses.

There is that old axiom, “Come to California on vacation and leave on probation.” This statement shows the overzealous nature of the police departments and district attorneys that have always harmed us, the poor and people of color.

The Three Strikes Law has been used as a tool to get innocent folks to plead guilty to crimes they have not committed. If defendants are eligible for sentencing under the Three Strikes Law, the DA will offer a plea bargain: They plead guilty and receive a sentence for a crime they did not commit because of the threat of receiving a 25 to life sentence.

Many of my friends are now responsible fathers, grandfathers, brothas, sistas, uncles and relatives who have committed crimes in the past that are classified as serious and/or violent and face the possibility of serving 25 to life for non-violent and petty offenses.

It has been said California spends $55,000 to incarcerate someone, and many feel that these resources could be better spent. It is difficult to argue with this logic, but regardless of what the cost is, we should be against the Three Strikes Law because the law negatively affects our communities regardless of the cost.

The passage of the Three Strikes Law is part of the war on communities of color and the criminalization of poverty. The results of a draconian law are defendants getting 25 to life sentences for allegedly stealing a slice of pizza, a carton of cigarettes or three golf clubs. This law operates part and parcel with the war on drugs, which is a war on Latinos and Black folks.

We should be against the Three Strikes Law because the law negatively affects our communities.

The reform of the Three Strikes Law with Proposition 36 will take a tool away from the police and DAs that has been used to oppress low-income and people of color communities. Any respite from the oppression of racism and capitalism on poor folks is worth voting for. So I say yes on Proposition 36.

Leo Stegman is a poverty skolar and reporter for POOR. Read more about issues of poverty and race written by the people who face them daily at POOR Magazine/POOR News Network, www.poormagazine.org.

2 thoughts on “Proposition 36 on the Three Strikes Law: a poverty skolar’s report

  1. wipe new

    First of all I would like to congratulate Mr. Leo Stegman for the effort he had taken for gathering this relevant information. It’s quite unbelievable that such numerous people are still experiencing poverty!

    Reply

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